Building Schools, and a New Relationship with my Daughter

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September 12, 2012

Anyone with a TV has seen advertisements for charities and noble causes the world over. Anyone with a heart has been moved by them.

For Justin Bowen, he’s felt compelled to give back to the world in a meaningful way but was unsure whether to get involved in his
own back yard or half way around the world.

It was a conversation with fellow World Teacher Aid participant, David Frey, which convinced him to get involved. After seeing David’s safari videos and hearing the excitement in his voice about the trip, he was sold that this would be a moving trip for him, and his 12-year-old daughter, Shayla.

“Shayla was getting to be the age and maturity where can could understand the drastic differences between the 3rd world and the access to what she has. I felt this would be a great opportunity for her to experience helping out and serving others.”

They had just come from two and a half months in Europe, with scheduled visits to everything, and being in each other’s company quite a bit. Justin decided that when they got to Africa, he was going to be hands off and let Shayla manage her own time.

With the freedom to do what she wanted, Shayla jumped right into forming lasting relationships with several of the kids at the camp. Justin was equal parts moved by the existing bond within the community of Giwa farms as he was the bonds his daughter was building with them.

“Seeing her step up her interactions with other people, it was a confirmation to me that she’s an awesome, amazing person. The excitement and joy that she was finding in and growing her personality, her outlook…she just blossomed. The trip helped our relationship. I gained a lot of respect for her as an individual, not just as my kid.”

The evolution in their relationship has stayed with them, despite the trip being ten months ago. This summer, Justin is returning with Shayla again, as well as his wife, Brooke.

The whole experience is clearly one about family for Justin. He recalls standing on the construction site, talking about dedicating the administrative block to his father who died seven years ago. The foreman appeared a moment later with a K. Ryan Bowen plaque.

“My father was incredible with children. He was all about encouraging kids to step towards their passion, to go for it. And that’s what school is all about. It was cool to hold the plaque and know that it was going on a school that would be changing kids’ lives.”

To anyone even half way considering going, he recounts the story of Shayla.

“We had spent two and a half months in beautiful Europe, which she loved. Visiting museums and every landmark. When I asked her what experience of that summer she would go back and do over again, “Africa!” is always her first response.”

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